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Governments around the world have been warned that global supply chains could collapse unless urgent action is taken to aid the plight of transport workers.

In an open letter to governments at the UN, international transport groups said governments had to restore freedom of movement to transport workers and give them priority access to vaccines.

According to the letter from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and other trade bodies, “global supply chains are beginning to buckle as two years’ worth of strain on transport workers take their toll.”

Joint effort

Other signatories included the IRU, the world road transport organisation, IATA, the International Air Transport Association, and ITF, the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

They are urgently seeking a meeting with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to identify solutions before global transport systems collapse.

Confined to ships

Up to 400,000 seafarers found themselves unable to leave their ships during the pandemic as governments enacted lockdowns and prevented them from coming ashore when they docked. Some seafarers have worked 18 months over their initial contracts.

Flight crews have also faced inconsistency over border and travel restrictions, as well as vaccine requirements.

Truckers have faced new requirements that have forced them to wait, sometimes weeks, before being able to complete journeys and return home.

Labour shortages

The failure to resolve these crises could worsen ongoing supply chain disruption.

Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS, said that worker shortages are likely to worsen towards the end of the year because seafarers may not want to commit to new contracts and risk not making it home for Christmas.

Karynn Marchal, a ship’s chief officer, told CNN that members of her crew had not been permitted shore leave for 18 months with massive implications for morale.


Unequal distribution of vaccines globally is also a big issue.

Many seafarers are from India and the Philippines, and only about 25% to 30% of them are fully vaccinated, according to Platten.

Umberto de Pretto, secretary-general of IRU, told the FT that a political decision was required.

“Do you want an economic recovery or not? If you do, you want political leadership to address this crisis” he said.